Archive for the ‘Yellowstone National Park’ Category

Colors, Colors Everywhere!

September 20, 2010 - 10:42 pm No Comments

The hike up Geyser Hill to the observation point was a bit strenuous and cold first thing in the morning, and it felt even colder when Old Faithful didn’t erupt as scheduled. Bracing ourselves against brisk winds, Old Faithful teased us with tiny queefs.

Finally, it erupted. It’s much less impressive when viewed from far away but an interesting perspective nonetheless. From such a distance, the geyser’s signature whooshing sound cannot be heard. With similarly freezing tourists on either side of us, we watched in silence.

Old Faithful Erupts

After hiking back down, Stef and I followed the wooden boardwalk across Upper Geyser Basin. It was still early and chilly, but nasty fumes from the geysers and steam vents kept us warm as we walked. It was surprisingly busy, with families and camera-toting Asians crowding around geysers and waiting for the next scheduled eruptions.

Geysers dribbled and burped but were mostly gray and boring. The geothermal pools were more interesting to me. Their dazzling colors and mysterious stillness made me want to stick my hand in, but I held back. Unfortunately, people have been throwing garbage into these pools for decades. Trash settles and blocks the natural underground plumbing, disrupting microecosystems and diminishing their color. Shame.

Geothermal Pool in the Sun

Beauty Pool

Morning Glory Pool

Sawmill Geyser

Stef Walks the Upper Geyser Basin

From there, we dashed over to another geyser hot spot, the Black Sand Basin.

Runoff at Black Sand Basin

Emerald Pool

Before leaving Yellowstone, I wanted to get one last look at Grand Prismatic Spring. I knew that somewhere, there was vantage point to see it from above, but I didn’t know where it was, and park maps for the area were useless. Following the advice of a park ranger, we drove to the Fairy Falls trail and followed it a bit before veering off to hike up a hill.

From above, the view is spectacular. A gentle breeze silently wafts away the steam, revealing a full spectrum of colors that you never get to see on the ground.

Grand Prismatic Spring

Grand Prismatic Spring

Stef & Jeff at Grand Prismatic Spring

The trail is not marked, but this hike should be required on any visit to Grand Prismatic Spring. Truly amazing, and a great way to finish Yellowstone.

We hit the road and headed south. On our way out of Yellowstone, we learned that the Antelope Fire had closed down a good chunk of the park up north. Once again, we lucked out.

Jeff at the Continental Divide

As we approached Grand Teton National Park, the grasses became thicker and more golden. The area around Lewis Falls was particularly beautiful. The purple Grand Tetons (French for “big tits”) greeted us in the distance.

Lewis River

Lewis Falls

When you first enter on John D. Rockefeller Parkway, the scenery is spectacular. Jagged, picturesque mountains resemble the massive stone peaks of Glacier National Park, only with less snow and vegetation. Trees are awash in fall colors, and late afternoon sunlight fills everything with a golden glow. Yellowstone had none of this! Yellowstone may be good for wildlife and geysers, but for landscapes, Grand Teton National Park is where you want to be.

Colors of Grand Teton

Colors of Grand Teton

Colors of Grand Teton

After a few phone calls, we learned that many of the lodges were closed for the season. I know it’s the end of the season, but why is everything closing down when these parks are still so busy? Jackson Lake Lodge was pricey, but it was the cheapest available room in the area, so we grabbed it. After checking in, I asked the lady at the front desk if there was a good spot to go for sunset, and she recommended Oxbow Bend, a small lake just down the road.

We arrived there to find dozens of photographers with their huge tripods and lenses pointed at the bushes on other side of river. Apparently, a moose family had been out the evening before, and they’d been sitting there for hours just waiting for it. Wildlife photographers have a patience I can’t even begin to understand.

Stef at Oxbow Bend

Oxbow Bend

Oxbow Bend

Back at the Jackson Lake Lodge, we relaxed on the deck overlooking the meadow and watched the sun disappear behind the Grand Tetons and felt night slowly descend over us. Quite a view.

Sunset at Jackson Lake Lodge

Pink Fluff on Mount Moran

While waiting for a table at the lodge restaurant, we sat in the Shining-esque lobby and struck up a conversation with an older couple from Columbus, Georgia. My friend Rob lives in Columbus, but they didn’t know him.

Stef has been having some stomach problems, but that didn’t stop her from ordering elk at dinner. It was very lean and delicious, but I’m not sure exotic meats are what Stef’s ailing tummy needs. I had the duck, which was also quite delicious.

Moose Butter

Along with the gastrointestinal issues, Stef’s legs are killing her and her feet are covered with blisters. We both have sunburned faces and chapped lips. All this adventure is taking its toll. Vacations are rough!

Tomorrow’s the last day of our adventure. We’ll start the day with a hike around highly recommended Jenny Lake and then head further south to Jackson Hole for our last night.

Early Morning at Old Faithful

September 20, 2010 - 7:20 am No Comments

We were uncomfortable and cold and stinky, but we didn’t get busted.

Woke up at dawn, just in time for this morning’s first Old Faithful eruption.

Old Faithful Erupts #1

At the moment, I’m trying to warm up with a blueberry muffin and hot chocolate in the lobby of the Old Faithful Inn. Looking out the giant windows, I see better-rested tourists with hot coffees gathering around Old Faithful. Stef and I are about climb up Geyser Hill to view Old Faithful’s next eruption from above. It’s scheduled to blow at 7:50am, so we have to book it.

A Day in Yellowstone

September 19, 2010 - 9:25 pm No Comments

Before setting off, we worked out a plan for the day. The main roads of Yellowstone are shaped like a figure eight, so there’s no way to avoid backtracking if you want to see the whole park. It’s kind of a pain.

We drove into the park and found a giant elk waiting for us in the parking lot. A ranger worked frantically to keep warning cones up in a circle about 200 feet from the animal, warning people to stay back and running around to reposition them every time the elk took a step in any given direction.

Bugling Elk

Every few minutes, the elk would stoop his head and make a loud, dinosaur-like sound that was something between a squeal and a groan. Turns out that this is called “bugling,” and elks do it to mark their territory and attract females.

Due to some faulty map-reading and a wrong turn, we didn’t get to the Lamar Valley for wildlife watching. Not a big deal, since it seemed like the Lamar Valley was on fire. Smoke filled the air, and many of the smaller roads and trails were closed.

Morning Mountain Sunshine

Smoky Drive Through Yellowstone

We came across a herd of bison on the side of the road. These animals are huge, and they’re not shy. While we drove slowly, I gingerly leaned out the window to take pictures.

Roadside Bison

Stoic Bison

Skipping the Lamar Valley meant that we arrived at Mt. Washburn earlier than scheduled. The sky was perfectly clear, and the air was cool and crisp. At 10,243 feet, Mt. Washburn is the highest point in park. The hike to the top climbs 1,491 feet from parking lot and took us about two hours. I’m not a hardcore hiker like Stef, and that’s about as much as I can handle. Clicking noises and conversation all the way up kept any bears away.

Stef on Mount Washburn

From the cold and windy top of Mt. Washburn, we could see the extent of the forest fire. Turns out that Yellowstone fires are given specific names, and this particular one was called the “Antelope Fire.” Literature in the lookout tower said that it was caused by a lightning strike and now covered 600 acres. Rangers were working to control it.

Forest Fires in the Lamar Valley

Lookout Tower on Mount Washburn

The Top of Mount Washburn

Shadow Monster

Path on Mount Washburn

The Mt. Washburn hike was moderately scenic. Aside from a few angry crickets that attacked Stef, we didn’t see any wildlife. If Mt. Washburn is the best hike in the park, then this is not a good park for hiking.

In contrast to Glacier National Park, the trees of Yellowstone are almost exclusively evergreen. Things are greener, but it also means that things are more monochromatic. Photographically, it’s a little less interesting.

The rest of the afternoon was dedicated to geysers and hot springs. Our first stop was the Norris Geyser Basin, a windy, stinky moonscape with ribbons of color.

A wooden walkway takes you past geysers that are oozing, spurting, bubbling, erupting, splashing, leaking, steaming, gushing, trickling, and simmering. Geysers that aren’t doing anything are really quite boring. Baseball caps blown off the heads of unsuspecting tourists litter the basin. In the cold breeze, the warm steam from the geysers feels good, but the pungent smell of rotten eggs means that you can only stand in it for a moment.

Pinwheel Geyser

Porcelain Basin

Porcelain Spring

Porcelain Pools

Geyser on the Firehole River

Bacterial Mat

Artist Paint Pots

Shallows of Firehole River

By far, the most colorful and active feature was Grand Prismatic Spring. Because steam filled the air, it was hard to appreciate its true size.

Bridge Over the Bacterial Mats at Grand Prismatic Spring

Orange Bacterial Mat of Grand Prismatic Spring

Orange Bacterial Mat of Grand Prismatic Spring

Excelsior Geyser Runoff

Excelsior Geyser Runoff

We arrived at Old Faithful as the sun was setting, just in time to watch it erupt. Pretty cool. The eruption is surprisingly quiet, sounding a bit like a waterfall from a distance.

Old Faithful at Dusk

We went back to see another eruption under the stars. Just enough ambient moonlight and illumination from inside the Old Faithful Inn to see the eruption.

Old Faithful at Night

As the most popular attraction in Yellowstone, Old Faithful is quite commercialized, with three overpriced lodges, a giant visitor center, and huge parking lots all around it. For dinner, Stef and I treated ourselves to a luxurious meal at one of the lodge restaurants. Stef’s wild boar was porky, tough, and seasoned a bit too sweet for me. I had lamb.

Night. We needed a place to sleep. We wanted a room at one of the lodges, but they were all booked. We are 20 miles away from the nearest campgrounds. They’re probably full, anyway. What can we do? We know it’s against the rules, but Stef and I have decided to sleep in our car in the Old Faithful Inn parking lot. It’s cheap, it cuts a lot if driving out, and it gives us a great starting point tomorrow morning.

We’re right by the front door of the lodge. Stef thinks that park rangers are less likely to check a car that is parked so conspicuously. I hope we don’t get busted.

The Yellowstone Dilemma

September 19, 2010 - 12:23 am No Comments

Another early start, leaving Glacier National Park before dawn. On the snowy road just outside the park, we came across two horses that had been hit by a car or truck. Bloody and mangled, one obstructed a lane, another was on the side of the road. It was gently snowing, and the horses were not covered in snow, so it must have just happened. A grisly, sad sight.

Welcome to Blackfeet Nation

Heading south through Montana, the landscapes were beautiful and varied. Black cows dotting grassy, featureless hills. Slopes covered with red and green bushes. Giant, rocky mountains in the distance. Large, circular fields with center pivot irrigation. A blanket of dark gray clouds loomed overhead for most of the ride.

The roads between Glacier and Yellowstone are mostly narrow, two-lane highways. I can’t imagine how much traffic there is in the high season between these parks. But there was nobody on road today, so it was a breeze.

I did the driving. Stef hit the radio scan button repeatedly and entertained me with Mad Libs. She says I suck at Mad Libs.

It was just before Helena that a cop pulled me over for speeding. Stef had been doubling the speed limit all over Montana, and this guy stops me for going 86 in a 75. After telling him that we were on vacation and driving a rental, he cracked a half-smile, said he’d lower it to 85 in 75, and told me all I’d have to do is pay a $20 fine on the spot and that would be the end of it. Montana is cool!


Montana Speeding Ticket

We stopped in Helena for lunch. Seems like a fun, little college town.

As we neared Yellowstone National Park, Stef worked on a finely tuned itinerary for the next two days. We were a bit disappointed with the lack of wildlife we had seen up north, and we were very anxious to see bison and moose and bears in Yellowstone.

After passing through gateway town of Gardiner, we finally reached the Roosevelt Arch, marking the historical northern entrance to Yellowstone.

Roosevelt Arch

Stef & Jeff at Yellowstone National Park

45th Parallel North

We checked in at the visitor center at Mammoth Springs and learned that almost all of the campgrounds were filled up or closed for the season (a strange combination). Our plans for the next couple of days in Yellowstone counted on getting strategic places inside the park to sleep each night, so now our plans were shot to hell.

Tempers flared. Stef and I eventually agreed to make the most of our last few days, sticking to our itinerary as closely as possible and promising to be flexible when things didn’t go perfectly.

We took a quick walk around Mammoth Springs. Surprisingly unimpressive. The little pools of water are sort of colorful, but the most of it looks like a white, chalky mess.

Jupiter Terrace

Minerva Spring

Cleopatra Terrace

Main Terrace

Main Terrace

Happy Cyanobacteria on the Main Terrace

Happy Cyanobacteria

Dead Trees on the Main Terrace

Hit the road in search of a place to stay for the night and saw our first bison. Such cool-looking animals!

Bison Butt

Bison in the Grass

I pulled into one of the nearby campgrounds, but my charm wasn’t enough to secure a space. Stef got on her Verizon phone (Yellowstone is not AT&T friendly) and desperately called every motel in nearby Gardiner. We made our way past a bunch of neon “No Vacancy” signs to a Travelodge, where Stef got what might have been the last available room in the area.

Yellowstone Lodge Travelodge

There’s a lot to see in Yellowstone. Since we’re not staying in the park, we’re going to lose a lot of time driving. We’re going to have to pretty much wing it tomorrow.